Word/Sacrament

Where is the fear of God?

Where is the fear of God?

R.C. Sproul’s greatest contributions in my estimation are his works on worship. I’ve encouraged many people to read through his excellent little book, A Taste of Heaven. He observes the disjointed view people have when they separate God’s demand for reverence in the Old and his demand in the New:

One aspect of the modern church that most saddens and concerns me is that believers are no longer encouraged to have a healthy fear of God. We seem to assume that the fear of the Lord is something that belonged to the Old Testament period and is not to be a part of the life of the Christian. But fear of God involves not simply a trembling before His wrath, but a sense of reverence and awe because of His glorious holiness.

One Solution to Scriptural Fatigue

Over the years I have experienced scriptural fatigue. I have never doubted the Bible’s authority or ability to change sinners, but I have gone through phases where reading the Bible became a chore rather than a meaningful engagement with written truth. Overcoming this fatigue can be difficult at times. Patterns are hard to undo. What has truly helped me over the years is seeing the Bible through the lens of what God is doing in the world and our call as kingdom agents in it.

The Scriptures refresh our mission as actors in God’s theater. When the kingdom of God is seen as supreme than everything else is added, including a fresh love and perspective of God’s Word. When the Bible becomes a therapeutic, individualist manual, then love for its truth varies based on our shifting emotional status. But if the kingdom and God’s mission take a central role in our hermeneutics and reading, it may not solve our occasional fatigue, but it will reshape our view of reading and learning from God’s Word.

Where is the celebration?

Note: This was written in 2007. Minor revisions were made. I still agree with myself after almost a decade. While shocking it remains true.

Unlike many, many churches this Sunday, our congregation did not celebrate 4th of July. There are at least two obvious reasons for this decision:

a) The 4th of July is not a universal ecclesiastical practice.

b) Jesus is Lord of the world.

In the last five years, I have pursued the study of American history, which has led me to the conclusion that there is something unique about the American Constitution, about its founding, and about its early practices in the colonies. The very fact that there is a dispute about the godly heritage of American history proves that some series of incidents occurred in order to provide such disputations. If the evidence was insignificant I seriously doubt the debate would even take place. Nevertheless, in whatever camp one falls, it is incumbent to realize that Sabbath worship is not the place for exalting the glories of a nation, its godly heritage, or its “victories” in foreign lands.

There is a fundamental displacement of ecclesiastic priorities when a congregation replaces the adoration of the Holy Trinity for the adoration of the “holy” state. Laurence Vance is correct when he summarizes the nature of these patriotic services:

Unfortunately, what this means in many cases is state worship instead of God worship. Songs will be sung in praise of the state instead of in praise to God. The flag will be saluted instead of the Bible being exalted.

This observation illustrates well my two points mentioned above. The first one is that the “4th of July patriotic service” is not a universal service; it does not involve the holy and apostolic church. In fact, it diminishes the glory of the church catholic by exalting the glory of the church in America. This is not the nature of Biblical history, which sees the church as a universal manifestation of the kingdom of our Lord Jesus.

The place for celebration and feasting on the benefits of our history is noble and should take place in its proper time and context. We should eat, drink and be merry and keep living. We should be grateful to a nation that has provided us freedoms to oppose its principles and leaders at certain times. However, the celebration of the Lord’s Day looks to something far greater than the Constitution or George Washington. The Lord’s Day is reserved for the liturgy of the church, the proclamation of the counsel of God, and a consummative ritual called the Eucharist, where the people feast on Christ, not on hot dogs and burgers. Keeping this distinction clear will aid the church in proclaiming what the world truly needs to hear.

The only events that are clear from Scriptures and the holy church are those that have been confirmed and applied in time and history and that are grounded in the sacred testimony of Scriptures.1 Hence, the point is that any celebration not rooted in the history of the Church or the Bible is not worthy to be brought to the pulpit or the table of the Sabbath feast.

The Christian, who believes the Lord’s Day ought to be an exposition of the glories of country rather than the glories of Christ, robs himself of true joy. The Bible exalts the Sabbath worship to a heavenly throne, where the angels adore and cry Holy, Holy, Holy. Every Sunday, the church triumphant lauds the eternal city on earth, the city of God and His Christ. No earthly celebration should match or replace the wonder of this heavenly feast.

The second point is rather clear as well: The Lordship of Christ extends to the entire world. Affirming thus does not exclude America, but it serves to show that Christ’s reign is universal. His intention is to bring the world under His dominion and not simply one country. This pervasive idea may be due to the overly localized ecclesiology. Denominations that boast in their independent status as opposed to the inter-connectedness of the church usually fail to see this point. These churches act like the prodigal son who believes if he maintains a level of independence with his father’s funds, then he can make it. At least the prodigal son, in the end, realizes that his funds are limited, his accountability is limited, and his individuality can only go so far. It is this thinking that has kept the church from celebrating the kingdom of God.

American churches need to realize that boasting in anyone, but Christ is foolish indeed. It is the Christian message we raise as our banner; it is the Christian Christ we raise as the God and any other challenge to this model is deemed to failure.

Footnotes

  1. Examples would be Resurrection Sunday, Advent, etc. [ back]

What is Holy Saturday?

The Passion Week provides diverse theological emotions for the people of God. Palm Sunday commences with the entrance of a divine King riding on a donkey. He comes in ancient royal transportation. The royal procession illicit shouts of benediction, but concludes only a few days later with shouts of crucifixion as the king is hung on a tree.

The Church also celebrates Maundy Thursday as our Messiah provides a new commandment to love one another just as He loved us. The newness of the commandments is not an indication that love was not revealed prior (Lev. 19), but that love is now incarnate in the person of love, Jesus Christ. We then proceed to sing of the anguish of that Good Friday as our blessed Lord is humiliated by soldiers and scolded by the offensive words of the religious leaders of the day. As he walks to the Mount, his pain testifies to Paul’s words that he suffered even to the point of death (Phil. 2)But hidden in this glaringly distasteful mixture of blood, vinegar, and bruised flesh is the calmness of the day after our Lord’s crucifixion.

After fulfilling the great Davidic promise in Psalm 22, our Lord rests from his labors in the tomb. Whatever may have happened in those days before his resurrection, we know that Christ’s work as the unblemished offering of love was finished.

The Church calls this day Blessed Sabbath or more commonly, Holy Saturday. On this day, our Lord reposed (rested) from his accomplishments. Many throughout history also believe that Holy Saturday is a fulfillment of Moses’ words:

God blessed the seventh day. This is the blessed Sabbath. This is the day of rest, on which the only-begotten Son of God rested from all His works . . .(Gen. 2:2)

The Church links this day with the creation account. On day seven Yahweh rested and enjoyed the fruit of his creation. Jesus Christ also rested in the rest given to him by the Father and enjoyed the fruits of the New Creation he began to establish and would be brought to light on the next day.

As Alexander Schmemann observed:

Now Christ, the Son of God through whom all things were created, has come to restore man to communion with God. He thereby completes creation. All things are again as they should be. His mission is consummated. On the Blessed Sabbath He rests from all His works.

Holy Saturday is a day of rest for God’s people; a foretaste of the true Rest that comes in the Risen Christ. The calmness of Holy Saturday makes room for the explosion of Easter Sunday. On this day, we remember that the darkness of the grave and the resting of the Son were only temporary for when a New Creation bursts into the scene the risen Lord of glory cannot contain his joy, and so he gives it to us.

New Publication from Kuyperian Press: A Case for Infant Baptism

New Publication from Kuyperian Press: A Case for Infant Baptism

Kuyperian Press was founded to provide works that are accessible to the layman in the parish. In this new work, Dr. Gregg Strawbridge provides a wonderful summary of the case for infant baptism in the Bible.

What makes this booklet different?

Strawbridge has provided various charts and biblical connections making the case that the Bible’s promise to the children of the covenant has not been forgotten in the New Testament.

“In this little book, Gregg Strawbridge provides a clear, concise and compelling case for infant baptism. He anticipates the important questions, provides succinct answers, and thereby adds a highly valuable resource to the current conversation.”

–          John G. Crawford, Author of Baptism is Not Enough

 

An Hour and a Half Invitation to Believe the Gospel

Note: Here is a healthy summary of Covenant Renewal Worship and its evangelistic nature from beginning to end. The piece is written by my Associate Pastor, Al Stout. 

Guest Post by Al Stout

If you were to ask me, “Does your Church give an invitation each Sunday?” I would tell you, “Yes it does and it lasts about an hour and a half.”

For the uninitiated, an “invitation” is the portion of a service reserved for an appeal all those gathered to believe the Gospel, repent of their sins and trust Christ. It is typically given at the end of the service and may involve musical accompaniment; perhaps everyone will sing a hymn like Just As I Am as they invite you “come to Jesus”:

 Just as I am, without one plea, But that thy blood was she’d for me, And that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!

While some Churches keep the invitation open for a very long time (there are 6 verses to Just As I Am and it can be sung veeeerrrry slowly) you’ve probably never heard of one lasting for an hour and a half. So, what do I mean?

Bread and Wine

Like many Churches, Providence Church in Pensacola, FL is purposeful in its worship. The elements of each service are in there for a reason. Where we put things in a worship service is equally important. For example, the confession of sin occurs at the beginning of the worship service so that we can worship God with clean hands and hearts. We end each service with a commissioning to go out and make disciples, this is the last command of our Savior while he was physically with us. There are other elements and reasons for each, but you get the idea.

Part of this arrangement is to ensure that everyone hears the Gospel appeal, the invitation if you will, every single Lord’s Day. Not attached to something that is not the Gospel, but so that the whole service is the Gospel in a picture. The gathered Saints need to hear it, those who are outside the covenant need to hear it, God WANTS to hear it and the Church has historically put this message front and center in its worship.

Here is our basic worship outline:

  • We have a formal call to worship. We are ushered, at God’s command, into his presence.
  • We immediately confess our sins to him. This is what people do repeatedly in Scripture; they see God and fall down in repentance. Our confession of sin is not held to the end of the service.
  • God picks us up and tells us we are forgiven. He does not leave us in the dust of death, but lifts us up to life. Singing begins. Joyful, robust, God honoring singing.
  • He then begins to train us in righteousness. His word is like a sharp knife in the hand of the High Priest as he begins to cut us so that we can be a fit sacrifice of praise. Here we have reading, preaching and more singing of the Word of God and Hymns of instruction. We confess the Nicene Creed together so that we might be on guard against heresy and false teaching even in the middle of our worship.
  • We offer up prayers for the people, our city, the state and country. We ask God to bless his Churches around our area and to give great success to the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.
  • We give back to God in our tithes and offerings after hearing the word of God preached. It is the response of a grateful people.
  •  The forgiven, sanctified (by word and prayer) people of God are then invited to sit at the table of the Lord and to fellowship with him. He is reminded of his covenant with us; that his Son’s body was broke and his blood shed. He remembers and is pleased to call us his friends. This is a joyful time of remembrance for the Church. We are not remorseful or introspective as we look at Christ’s finished work. We are thankful!
  •  More singing.
  • The last thing that happens, is that God blesses us and sends us out to make disciples of all men. His name is placed on us one more time and we go out as ambassadors of the one who died and rose again, teaching everyone to observe all his commandments.
  • We go out singing.

This is a pattern of worship frequently called Covenant Renewal and if you are interested in learning more about that let me recommend The Lord’s Service, by Jeffery Meyers.

As you look at the above doesn’t it look like the Gospel appeal? You can use this in evangelism as a simple way to remember what God requires:

  • God is calling all men everywhere to worship him. Friend, you should heed the call of God.
  • We don’t want to worship him because of our sin, so the first thing we must do is repent.  Here is what that means…
  • When we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us. He does not just pass over them as if they never happened.  Jesus Christ died for them and God raised him from the dead to live forever and he loves you.
  • When you believe that you should follow Jesus and learn from him. He will teach you his word and change you to love the things he loves.
  • He promises never to leave you and will enjoy your company forever. He promises to send the Holy Spirit to be with you.
  • Now go out and tell others about him.

Get that pattern down and you don’t have to learn a script.  You can pick it up in the middle, or camp out on the idea that God calls everyone to worship him, whatever the circumstances suggest or require.

We have an evangelical message every Lord’s day.  If you come to worship with us long enough, you will know this message very well. It will be in your bones and when that happens, getting it out and into the world will become much easier.

So, if you attend Providence be prepared to hear an invitation to confession, faith and communion with God every single Lord’s Day and expect it to last awhile.

What about the Thief on the Cross?

The question is usually brought up in conversations about the efficacy of the sacraments. If baptism is so necessary or important as a sacrament, then what about the thief on the cross? Or, another way of phrasing it is to assert that baptism is not necessary for salvation because the thief on the cross was not baptized. These assumptions fail to see several things, but mainly it’s a categorical error. Baptism, as a sacrament, is not necessary to save in extraordinary circumstances,a but it is ordinary to save in almost all circumstances. Baptism is the seal of grace; the grace of the seal. Baptism is the initiation of a new mission. It is the mark of the Trinity over our body and soul.

So, then, we should ask why wasn’t the thief on the cross marked with the sacrament of baptism? The question is actually quite simple to answer. And the answer is that the thief was marked by God’s true sacrament, Jesus Christ. Jesus was the sacrament the thief experienced before death. Jesus was the baptism that covered the thief and gave him new life. Jesus, in fact, gave of his own body as a baptism for the thief as his body was pierced and blood and water washed the thief’s sin and gave him a Savior. The thief on the cross was sacramentalized by water and blood.

  1. death-bed experiences, early childhood death, stillborn  (back)
The Grace of Baptism

The Grace of Baptism

The question of baptism and its recipients is truly a matter of grace and not of works. It was my Calvinism that led me away from credo-baptism. I knew–though it took me a while to act on it–that grace was more than a mere soteriological category. Grace was everything and in every act of God for us. The question of an infant’s ability never crossed my mind as a barrier to accepting covenant baptism. The question of God’s grace was the key that unlocked the baptismal font.

Baptism is a heavenly Pentecost. The Spirit is poured, not we who pour ourselves. Everything is of grace; Gratia sunt omnia. God identifies us as His own from the beginning as He did with creation and then He christens us with His spirit. Baptism is the divine hovering. Baptism is gracious because through it God re-enacts the creation of the world. In baptism we are a new creation. a God has copyrighted the world. He labels, gifts, and graces. Man does not have that capacity; man does not create in and of himself, therefore man cannot change his own identity.  We are imitators, but yet only capable of imitating because God graces us with His artistic gifts.

In the beginning, the world is first identified by the Triune God (Gen. 1) and then it is called to praise that God (Ps. 19). We are first identity-less (dark and void), and then God fills us with His Spirit (light and life). Baptism is all of grace. We were void and empty. God looked at us (Ezk. 16) and washed us and clothed us with fine clothing (Ps. 45).

Infant baptism is of grace because it is the re-enacting of creation. Creation begins in darkness– as in a womb– and is washed. It is like our God to destroy nations with fire and to create new ones with a few drops of water.

  1. Thanks to Jonathan Bonomo for this last comment  (back)
Random and Simple Theology Notes on Liturgy and Baptism

Random and Simple Theology Notes on Liturgy and Baptism

I wrote a couple of notes as I prepared to meet with an inquirer this morning:

Liturgy: The Bible shows us patterns. These patterns when looked carefully all reveal a similar structure.

First, God calls us into His presence, then we are mute (undone) and we confess our sins, but God forgives us by cleansing us from our sins (absolution), then we are consecrated (set-apart) when God instructs us (preaching of the Word) to grow up and no longer be children (maturity), as the instruction ends God feeds our weary souls with bread and wine (Communion), and finally when we are nourished by Word and Sacraments (Communion), God sends us out into the world to live faithfully before God and man (Commission). This entire pattern can be seen in the sacrificial system in Leviticus, in the famous Isaiah calling in Isaiah 6, and the final book of the Bible, Book of Revelation, and other related texts.

Baptism: The Bible shows us that God never forsakes His promises.

The pattern found in the Bible is that God makes promises with you and your children (see various OT passages, but see its repetition again in the NT in Acts 2:39). The New Testament provides us many examples of baptisms of adult, but it never denies the baptisms of infants, rather it assumes it when entire households are baptized (households in the Ancient world included infants and slaves). Further, there is not one example in the Bible where a child grows up in a Christian family and is only baptized later in life through an adult-like profession of faith.  Not one. There are many examples of former pagans professing faith in Christ and being baptized as adults, but no examples of children growing up in Christian homes waiting to be baptized.

In Ephesians 4:5, Paul says that we have one faith, one Lord, one Baptism. Though many evangelicals have been re-baptized (for whatever reason; perhaps they did not believe their first baptism was not valid because they were not truly living for God), the Bible opposes this idea. If our first baptism was done in a Christian Church in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, then God views it as valid and acceptable. Any other baptisms do not undo the first, and though not sinful, are unnecessary.

Baptism, Blood, and Battle

Baptism, Blood, and Battle

Many people struggle with the concept of biblical continuity. They impose unnecessary breaks in the Bible. They put commas when God has put a period. The same takes place in matters of sacramental importance. The Bible becomes a place full of rituals and rites. These rituals and rites have a purpose in the Scriptures. They shape the humanity of the Israel of God. Israel becomes a people because they participate in these important initiatory experiences. We are all shaped by experiences. These experiences in the context of the Church make us who we are. They identify us with a certain community. In ancient Israel, the Hebrews were identified by their bloody signs. These signs connected us with a bloody religion; the religion of our forefathers.

These signs were to be identity-markers. As God’s people transitioned in leadership these signs remained. As God’s people went through periods of obedience and disobedience, these rituals remained. As God’s people were organically joined with the Gentiles, becoming one flesh–like husband and wife–these rituals remained. Now, it is not that the rituals remained unaffected in every detail. In fact, they changed drastically. The once bloody identity markers were replaced with cleansing markers. There is lots of cleansing taking place in the New Covenant. This happens because Jesus’ humanity changes the world.  Jesus’ humanity humanifies the world. The presence of Messiah in word and deed pushes back the dirt and corruption and darkness and incompleteness of the Old Covenant rituals. There is a temporary nature to particular rituals, but the rituals themselves continue to a thousand generations.

The issue of continuity is a fundamental aspect to this ritual-laden world. The rituals continue, changed by times and places, but the object of these rituals never decrease, they only increase. In other words, every male boy at eight days old was to be circumcised (Gen. 17). There is no reference of explicit female circumcision, though there are indications that females should be spiritually set apart as the boys. But in the New Creation, entire households are brought forth for this cleansing ritual called baptism. Every Gentile and Jews, male and female are made explicit recipients and are called to partake of this new sign.

The New Covenant is a covenant of abundant life, and abundant life means blessings to the nations. Baptism saves to the uttermost because Christ saves to the uttermost. You cannot separate the abundant life Christ gives with the abundant life of the means Christ provides for His own.

The individualized language of modern sacramental and evangelical theology is a departure from the type of language the Bible has trained us to use when referring to rituals. Rituals have always been communal activities. The glory of the many in the Old Creation is not substituted by the radical commitment of the one in the New Covenant. Jesus is always and perpetually connected to a body in His ascension work. To divorce Christ from the body is an act of covenantal treason. Continuity is key to understanding this process. It is not as some assume that the sacrament of baptism needs to depart from the Old Creation. The sacrament of baptism is so inextricably tied to the bloody rites of the Old Creation that it cannot be divorced from it in any way, shape, or form. Blood makes room for water. Bloody-martyr-servants make room for cleansed-martyred servants. Still, One Lord, one faith, one baptism.

Baptism is a welcome party for martyrs. In baptism, the noble army of God is equipped to serve and battle. They do not begin anew, but they continue the ancient battle begun in Genesis. They add their powerful voices and armors to the battle. They are consecrated in water, their swords are sharpened, and their helmets are strengthened. In the heat of the battle while the enemies find no place to call home, Yahweh prepares a table in the presence of His enemies.

Baptism is preparation for a life-long war. Christ leads the baptized saints. He washed them with great care and equipped them to do the work. This community of faith directs their love to the One who adopted them in love. Baptism is loyalty to Messiah. Baptism cleanses, restores, and adorns those who undergo the great cleansing. To deny a continuity of rituals is to deny the war on the serpent. All God’s children need to be ritualized, so they can war.